Mitrovic and R-Lions top Guelph
Nem Mitrovic’s pro basketball career has taken him all over the world.
The 6-foot-6, 200-pound Niagara River Lions guard played in Greece, Italy, France, Spain before suiting up with Santos de San Luis in Mexico’s Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional (LNBP) this past season.
“I transitioned to playing in a different part of the world after spending most of my time in Europe,” the 28-year-old Toronto native said. “I skipped out on the first couple months of the season, September and October, to give myself time to find a different region of the world to play in and expand my market.”
San Luis Potosí City is located three hours north of Mexico City.
“It was good,” he said, of the calibre of Mexican ball. “The style of play is very different from Europe so, for me, it took some getting used to. There’s a lot of money in the league and they bring in high-level players. Whenever that happens, it brings up the quality of the play.”
The difference in style was radical.
“Europe is more team oriented and less individual-based ball. In Mexico, it’s if you’re talented, go get us some baskets and win us the game.”
While playing in Mexico, Mitrovic was contacted by Niagara GM/Head coach Victor Raso and was asked if he would be interested in joining the River Lions for the inaugural season of the Canadian Elite Basketball League.
“We talked pretty early in the process and I was interested in playing right away,” he said. “For me, I’ve never had the chance to play at home so it was an unique opportunity to play for a good team and a new league which from the outside looked pretty good and was trending towards being high level.”
It was also a rare chance to play in front of family and friends.
“For us too, the summertime is about getting better, staying in shape and being ready for the next season,” said the former member of the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team. “I don’t think there’s any better way to do that than being in a team environment, practising and working at a high level.”
He isn’t focusing on any one part of his game.
“This is my seventh year as a pro and, in my experience, I have learned that playing every day and learning from the mistakes you’ve made when you play is where you make the greatest jumps in terms of understanding how to do certain things, how to use your strengths and how to improve your weaknesses.”
Niagara is the perfect spot to improve weaknesses, judging by the way the players go after each other in practice.
“He (Raso) set it up that way and we have created a culture starting with Victor and then down through the players,” Mitrovic said. “We have a lot of guys who are competitive and we are all trying to get better.”
That culture has carried over to games.
“We are practising at a high level during the week so when the game comes, our opponent doesn’t give us anything better than what we have already faced the previous days.”
The former University of Portland scholarship player has been impressed with the calibre of CEBL.
“It has been good so far,” he said. “Obviously we have been doing well and winning most of our games but that doesn’t mean the games haven’t been difficult or the competition level low.
“It’s high-level competition and the CEBL administration did a good job of setting the league up.
Mitrovic is still in the process of figuring out where he will ply his trade this winter. Pro basketball is a nomadic existence but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The obvious things is we get paid and we make a pretty good living off of basketball,” he said. “Any time someone says ‘Hey, we will pay you to play a sport’ and you can make a lot of money, I think a lot of people dream about that when they are young.”
He takes nothing for granted.
“We are pretty lucky to have that opportunity and for me, I love basketball,” he said. “I have put so much of my life into it and a lot of effort put into it to get where I am today so.”
He has no idea much much longer he will play.
“It is a nomadic existence, because we are always on the move, and that can get tiresome,” he said. “As I approach my thirties and want settle down and start a family and stuff, it’s definitely I am thinking about but at the same time, I’m not ready to stop playing yet.
“I feel like I have a lot left to give.”
If he decides he has had enough, there’s no turning back.
“Once you stop playing basketball, that’s it. There’s no going back and you can’t unretire unless you’re Michael Jordan,” he said. “I am taking year by year at this point, but I definitely feel like I have something left in the tank.”
Heading into Friday night’s home game against the Guelph Nighthawks, Mitrovic was averaging 25.4 minutes, 12.9 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. Against Guelph, he had 19 points as Niagara improved to 7-2 with a 112-109 victory over the Nighthawks. Niagara took quarter leads of 29-15 and 60-39 before Guelph made the game close by outscoring the River Lions 70-52 in the second half.
River Lions 112 Nighthawks 109
BPSN Player of the Game: Niagara’s Trae-Bell Haynes with 18 points, seven rebounds and four assists.
For the Niagara River Lions: Kassius Robertson 20; Nem Mitrovic 19; Bell-Haynes 18; Ryan Anderson 14; Alex Johnson 13.
For the Guelph Nighthawks: Marcus Lewis 26; Oly Famutini and Myck Kabongo 15.
Game stats: Shooting percentage: Niagara 46, Guelph 48. Rebounds: Niagara 43, Guelph 48. Free throws: Niagara 22-22, Guelph 21-28. Turnovers: Niagara 16, Guelph 17.
Up next: Niagara hosts the Saskatchewan Rattlers Friday at 7 p.m.